Althouse | category: terrorism



a blog by Ann Althouse

“I failed, failed and absolutely failed to understand just how exhausted by and disgusted with the perpetual representation of Muslim men and women as terrorists or former terrorists or potential terrorists the Muslim people are."

Said Abigail Disney — grandniece of Walt Disney, "a titan in the documentary world" — who was the executive director of “Jihad Rehab,” called it “freaking brilliant” in an email to the director, then disavowed it.

She is quoted in "Sundance Liked Her Documentary on Terrorism, Until Muslim Critics Didn’t/The film festival gave Meg Smaker’s 'Jihad Rehab' a coveted spot in its 2022 lineup, but apologized after an outcry over her race and her approach" (NYT).

Advised by a PR firm to apologize, the director Meg Smaker said "What was I apologizing for? For trusting my audience to make up their own mind?"

Smaker spent 16 months inside a Saudi rehabilitation facility interviewing former Guantánamo detainees.

The attacks came from what  the NYT characterizes as "the left":

Arab and Muslim filmmakers and their white supporters accused Ms. Smaker of Islamophobia and American propaganda. Some suggested her race was disqualifying, a white woman who presumed to tell the story of Arab men.

The filmmaker Assia Boundaoui, said: "To see my language and the homelands of folks in my community used as backdrops for white savior tendencies is nauseating. The talk is all empathy, but the energy is Indiana Jones."

"Though 'obscurantism' may be a word that is, well, obscure, to Americans, [Macron] is right. The line between the fight for freedom..."

"... and the surrender to hatred is absolute. The assault on Rushdie only clarifies its contours."

Writes Adam Gopnik, reacting to what Emmanuel Macron, the President of France, said on Friday evening:
“For 33 years, Salman Rushdie has embodied freedom and the fight against obscurantism. He has just been the victim of a cowardly attack by the forces of hatred and barbarism. His fight is our fight; it is universal.”

"Efforts are bound to be made" is an effortfully passive construction. Who is making these efforts? Who is putting "the acts of Rushdie" on the same level as the acts of "his tormenters and would-be executioners? Gopnik is talking about "the idea... that words are equal to actions," and he's seeing this idea among American progressives. Yes, Gopnik grouped American anti-free-speech progressives with murderous Iranian theocrats. Are you seeing American progressives equating Rushdie with those who've been trying to kill him?

Now, let's look at Macron's word, "obscurantism." Gopnik notes that it's obscure and moves on, but I want to stop on it. I've blogged about it before, back in October 2020, when Macron said, "Obscurantism and the violence that goes with it will not win," after a teacher was decapitated, apparently for showing students a caricature from the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo as he taught about freedom of speech.

I quoted Wikipedia:
Obscurantism and Obscurationism describe the practice of deliberately presenting information in an imprecise, abstruse manner designed to limit further inquiry and understanding. There are two historical and intellectual denotations of Obscurantism: (1) the deliberate restriction of knowledge—opposition to disseminating knowledge; and (2) deliberate obscurity—a recondite literary or artistic style, characterized by deliberate vagueness.....

In the 18th century, Enlightenment philosophers applied the term obscurantist to any enemy of intellectual enlightenment and the liberal diffusion of knowledge. In the 19th century, in distinguishing the varieties of obscurantism found in metaphysics and theology from the "more subtle" obscurantism of the critical philosophy of Immanuel Kant, and of modern philosophical skepticism, Friedrich Nietzsche said: "The essential element in the black art of obscurantism is not that it wants to darken individual understanding, but that it wants to blacken our picture of the world, and darken our idea of existence."

The OED defines the word simply and unobscurely: "Opposition to inquiry, enlightenment, or reform." 

Perhaps the word in French feels more conversational. I suspect that it has been chosen in order to make it possible to discuss the problem without speaking of religion. You secularize the idea, so that the set of things you're referring to includes some nonreligious things — like superstition and hostility to science and free inquiry — and excludes some religion that is rational enough to accept scientific inquiry and peaceful coexistence.


And here's a new report from the London Times, quoting Rushdie's son Zafar: 
"Free speech is the whole thing, the whole ball game. Free speech is life itself.... Though his life changing injuries are severe, his usual feisty and defiant sense of humour remains intact. We are so grateful to all the audience members who bravely leapt to his defence and administered first aid along with the police and doctors who have cared for him and for the outpouring of love and support from around the world."

What's the difference?

What's the difference?

It's interesting, the differences that matter to people, the endless quest to distinguish alligators from crocodiles and psychopaths from sociopaths, but what I wanted to know was the difference between vandalism and terrorism. 

I'm reading "Madison anti-abortion headquarters hit by apparent Molotov cocktail, vandalism, graffiti" in the Wisconsin State Journal: "Vandals set a fire inside the Madison headquarters of the anti-abortion group...."

What is the word "vandalism" doing in that headline, which specifies 2 things — Molotov cocktail and graffiti? Is there some additional thing that was done that justifies putting "vandalism" in that sequence of words? A firebombing is more than vandalism, and the graffiti says "If abortions aren’t safe then you aren’t either," so there was a specific intent to terrorize people over their political beliefs and actions.  

I blogged that article last night — here — and I didn't say much, but I did shift to the word "terrorists" after quoting the newspaper's word "vandalism." (I wrote "The terrorists left graffiti....")

To say "vandalism" is to minimize the seriousness of this crime. Ironically, it also elevates the target, since the older meanings of "vandalism" highlight the destruction of things that are "beautiful, venerable, or worthy of preservation" (OED). 

This morning, I'm seeing that The New York Times is using the word "vandalism" (the headline"Anti-Abortion Group in Wisconsin Is Hit by Arson, Authorities Say" — uses the word "arson"):

The headquarters of an anti-abortion group in Madison, Wis., was set on fire on Sunday morning in an act of vandalism that included the attempted use of a Molotov cocktail and graffiti that read “If abortions aren’t safe then you aren’t either,” according to the police.

Why call it "an act of vandalism"? That seems to ascribe a motivation to whoever did this — a motivation of either random destruction or irreverence. But, based on the graffiti, the motive was to terrorize. If you hesitate to say "terrorism," refrain from talking about the motive. Don't downgrade it by calling it "vandalism."

And ask yourself, NYT, if a pro-abortion group were firebombed and graffiti'd with an equivalent threat, would you not easily and comfortably go to the strong word "terrorism"?

"My mom was terrified that my dad, a police inspector in charge of Senate security, was not coming back on March 1, 1954, the day four Puerto Rican nationalists pulled out guns and sprayed bullets..."

"... from the spectators’ gallery above the House floor. Five representatives were wounded. My father ran over from the Senate and wrested a 38-caliber pistol from one of the shooters. My brother Kevin, then in second grade, was traumatized by my mom’s terror as she stood in the kitchen, frozen, before she got word that my dad was OK... I thought about this listening to Dominique Luzuriaga, Officer Rivera’s widow, give her eulogy through sobs... Officer Rivera and his 27-year-old partner, Wilbert Mora, died answering a 911 call from a mother in Harlem who said her son had verbally threatened her. They walked down a hall in the apartment and the son jumped out and opened fire, fatally wounding both officers... [Rivera] was the class clown, but he got a serious crush on Dominique in grade school. Teachers had to sit them apart so they could focus...  When she was called to Harlem Hospital, she said, 'Walking up those steps, seeing everybody staring at me, was the scariest moment I’ve experienced.' Standing by her dead husband, wrapped in sheets, she told him: 'Wake up, baby. I’m here.' In the eulogy, she often talked directly to her husband, as though he were standing at her side: 'The little bit of hope I had that you would come back to life just to say "Goodbye" or just to say "I love you" one more time had left. I was lost. I’m still lost.'"

From "Rhapsody for a Boy in Blue" by Maureen Dowd (NYT).

To read more about that March 1, 1954 incident, here's the Wikipedia article. Excerpt: "The assailants were arrested, tried and convicted in federal court, and given long sentences, amounting to life imprisonment. In 1978 and 1979, their sentences were commuted by President Jimmy Carter."

And from "Rafael Cancel Miranda, Gunman in ’54 Attack on Congress, Dies at 89/He and three others opened fire on a crowded House chamber in the cause of Puerto Rican independence. Some saw him as a terrorist, others as a hero" (NYT, March 3, 2020):

“Can you imagine us thinking we could overthrow the U.S. government with little pistols?” he told The Militant. “I wish I could!” 

He referred to the attack as “an armed demonstration.” 

“We knew that if we went with signs, we weren’t going to get attention,” he said.

"The British man shot dead in the Texas synagogue siege was investigated by MI5 in late 2020, Whitehall sources confirmed to The Times."

"Malik Faisal Akram, 44, was the subject of a 'short lead investigation' for at least four weeks.... The authorities were already facing questions about why Akram was able to travel to the US, where he purchased a handgun, given he had a criminal record for offences including violence... Akram, from Blackburn, who once ranted about the September 11 attacks, was part of MI5’s pool of 40,000 closed subjects of interest.... The case was closed before it progressed to a full-blown inquiry involving intrusive techniques such as eavesdropping.... When he travelled to the US in late December, Akram was not on the Home Office warnings index, the watchlist that allows police at airports to intercept would-be passengers of concern. Sources said that it would be 'disproportionate' for someone assessed as being no threat to be on the list."

I'm sure you've read elsewhere that the rabbi engineered the escape — which involved throwing a chair at the armed hostage-taker. I like this justifiably proud statement by the rabbi, Jeffrey Cohen: "We escaped. We weren’t released or freed." 

"The Texas Department of Public Safety said the man had demanded to see his 'sister,' who may not actually be related to him and who is currently in U.S. federal custody..."

"... for 'terroristic events' in Afghanistan. 'The man claims he and his sister will be going to Jannah (Muslim belief of heaven) after he sees her,' the department said in a statement earlier on Saturday. The congregation had been holding a service... being live streamed on its Facebook page when... a man could be heard shouting about dying and not liking police officers... Many Jews expressed exhaustion on Saturday at the security concerns surrounding practicing their faith at a time when antisemitism comes from many sources, including white supremacists and Islamic extremists.... 'This is Jewish life in 2022... If you attend religious services without armed guards at the entrance and without fear of attack... you do not experience religious life as American Jews do.'"

"'I don’t buy that,' Carlson said. 'Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. I don’t buy that.' The thing is: Carlson shouldn’t have bought it."

"This, after all, was hardly the first time Cruz labeled Jan. 6 a terrorist attack. He did so the very next day -- 'a despicable act of terrorism' — and in a Jan. 8 tweet. He did so in a local news interview published Jan. 8, as well. Even more than four months after the riot, while voting against the creation of a bipartisan Jan. 6 commission, Cruz was still using that word. 'The January 6 terrorist attack on the Capitol was a dark moment in our nation’s history,' Cruz’s May 28 statement began. That is, indeed, a lot of slipping up to do — over a long time — for a Princeton- and Harvard-educated lawyer.... This wasn’t him slipping up; this was him deciding that the talking point was no longer welcome.... Cruz proceeded to say that he has long labeled those who attack police officers as terrorists and that’s merely what he was doing here. Carlson was again unimpressed and argued — again, validly! — that people who attack police officers should be put in jail, but that doesn’t make them terrorists."

From "Ted Cruz grovels to Tucker Carlson over Jan. 6 ‘terrorist attack’ remark" (WaPo). You don't have to trust WaPo. interview:

I'd like to see a list of all the times Cruz did call those who attack police officers terrorists. But even if he can claim that consistently, over a long period of time, he's used the word "terrorist" in that specific way, it still wouldn't justify calling the January 6th incident a terrorist attack, only calling a subset of the protesters terrorists. To call the entire incident a terrorist attack, you'd need some sort of pre-existing plan to attack the police. 

Does Cruz's position have something to do with the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, where many people came out to protests and then a subset proceeded to get violent? Did he ascribe the intent to commit acts of violence to the entire protesting group? If so, that might explain Cruz's effort at consistency, and it might also cause fair-minded people to take better care in demonizing protesters. 

We need and value our protesters in America. Yes, sometimes, some protesters go too far. They get violent. They break into buildings. But big protests are not terrorist attacks. I can understand the motivation to pressure people to stay home and not even appear in a protest lest they be deemed to participate in terrorism. That's a contemptible motivation. 

"Why Are Moms Like Me Being Called Domestic Terrorists?"

 Asks Maud Maron (at Common Sense with Bari Weiss).

I am a mother of four, a criminal defense attorney and a lifelong liberal who is deeply concerned about the direction of New York City’s public schools. I’ve been outspoken about my views, along with an untold number of frustrated parents. For that, the FBI is considering using the PATRIOT Act against me....

The FBI is responding to the National School Boards Association, which pointed to troubles like:

... prank calls; a single individual in Ohio yelling a “Nazi salute in protest of masking requirements”; another individual in Washington State whose disorderly conduct prompted the board to call a recess; “spreading misinformation” online, and disorderly conduct arrests.

 Maron has herself served on a school board (in Manhattan):

I chaired many school board meetings attended by hundreds of parents often voicing contentious opinions around the highly charged topics of admissions and curriculum. Ultimately, I became the board chair. As a school board chair, I was harassed, bullied, smeared and subjected to online campaigns demanding my resignation. Activists who disagreed with me regularly showed up at my school board meetings.... Yet never in my wildest dreams would I ever have considered their activism to be something best handled by the FBI....  

Maron also takes on the contention that Critical Race Theory is not being taught in schools, which was part of the NSBA’s complaint. They used the standard talking point that CRT is "a complex law school and graduate school subject well beyond the scope of a K-12 class." I like Maron's retort:

Are you kidding me? I read the classic Critical Race Theory textbook in law school. I would much prefer to have my children read that impenetrable tome than be subjected to the ideological grooming that takes place in their classrooms — a phenomenon that I and parents across the country witnessed over Zoom this past year-and-a-half. 

Why should our children — in class, in front of their peers — be required to discuss their sexual orientation? Give their pronouns? Renounce their “privilege”? Plumbing children for this kind of personal information is grotesque and inappropriate, and it has everything to do with the worldview of Critical Race Theory...

[F]ew elected officials have publicly aligned themselves with parents — rich and poor and of every color — who are outraged that their children are being denied a decent education by ideological zealots. There will be no waivers for these moms and dads. These people — who dare to question the conventional wisdom, who are not so quick to submit to the powers that be — have no friends in high places. Instead, they are being treated as possible criminals.... 

"The unmanned airstrike occurred in the Nangahar Province of Afghanistan. Initial indications are that we killed the target. We know of no civilian casualties."

Said Navy Capt. Bill Urban, a U.S. military spokesman, quoted in "U.S. says drone strike killed ISIS-K target as embassy warns Americans to leave airport 'immediately'" (WaPo).
Urban said the target was “an ISIS-K planner,” but did not say whether the person played a role in organizing or carrying out the airport attack.

I'll just do a survey: 

My confidence in the accuracy of this strike and this report about it is: free polls

ADDED: My confidence in my own wording of this poll is low to non-existent. What "report" — Capt. Urban's or WaPo's?  I think WaPo has built in the doubt. And so, for that matter, has Capt. Urban, because he doesn't say why the person killed was the target, only that a person was killed and that person was the target. Were non-targets also killed? He doesn't say no. He says he doesn't know. Why doesn't he know? How do you know you surgically precisely got one imprecisely identified man, but you didn't hit anyone else? Oh, but he doesn't claim we didn't hit anyone else, just that they didn't hit anyone else that they knew to be civilians. 

"The biggest blow to theocracy has been when political Islamists have actually come to power."

"The 'Islamic Republic of Iran,' which once marketed itself as some kind of Muslim utopia, has devolved into little more than a third-world, tinpot dictatorship. The 'Islamic State' in Iraq and Syria was little more than a meth-fueled orgy of torture and killing. The rule of the 'Justice and Development Party' in Turkey, once so promising, has devolved into little more than the megalomaniacal rule of a typical Middle Eastern strongman (Erdogan) and his corrupt relatives. In America, theocracy will shrivel in the same way - by winning power and showing its true colors. I am predicting right now that after the Supreme Court overturns (or guts) Roe v. Wade in 2022, banning abortion across America will be a long-term political disaster for the Republican Party."
Writes a commenter named Michal Zapendowski, responding to a David Brooks column in the NYT, "This Is How Theocracy Shrivels." 

Brooks says something similar, though without equating American Republicans to political Islamists: "When political Islamists tried to establish theocratically influenced rule in actual nations, their movement’s reputation was badly hurt. In one of extremism’s most violent, radical manifestations, the Islamic State’s caliphate in Iraq and Syria became a blood-drenched nightmare."
What's the difference?"'I don’t buy that,' Carlson said. 'Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. I don’t buy that.' The thing is: Carlson shouldn’t have bought it."

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